Netflix is no stranger to running afoul of Internet Service Providers (ISPs). At various turns along their way, Netflix has struck agreements to push their content onto screens across the country. According to the FCC, this amounts to an Internet “fast lane” — the very thing Netflix is arguing we shouldn’t have. Though the company is very outspoken regarding net neutrality, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai says their actions don’t match what they say. To his mind, Netflix is taking step to “effectively secure” Internet fast and slow lanes.
In a letter addressed to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Pai acknowledges Netflix’s advocacy for net neutrality, but says that securing peering agreements is counterintuitive to the cause. Moreover, Pai alleged Netflix is taking steps to assure their streaming service just flat-out performs better:
Recent press articles report that Netflix, our nation’s largest streaming video provider, has chosen not to participate in efforts to develop open standards for streaming video. Moreover, I understand that Netflix has taken — or at least tested — measures that undermine aspects of open standards for streaming video. Specifically, I understand that Netflix has at times changed its streaming protocols where open caching is used, which impedes open caching software from correctly identifying caching Netflix traffic. Because Netflix traffic constitutes such a substantial percentage of streaming video traffic, measures like this threaten the viability of open standards. In other words, if standards collectively agreed upon by much of the industry cannot identify and correctly route Netflix traffic, those standards ultimately are unlikely to be of much benefit to digital video consumers.
Pai also points out scuttlebutt regarding Netflix installing proprietary caching with ISPs through their Open Connect Program. The assertion is that Netflix’s cahcing means “Netflix’s videos would run the equivalent of a 100-yard dash while its competitors’ videos would have to run a marathon”.
Netflix has yet to respond, or offer up any kind of technical explanation for the allegations, though it’s unlikely they’d be in this situation if ‘net neutrality’ were already in place. In addition to saying Netflix is full of it about net neutrality, though, Pai is basically accusing them of doping; running their service on steroids through proprietary caching while others are left to fend for themselves via an open standard. That adds an interesting wrinkle to the whole open Internet conversation.